“ANY CHILD LIVING in poverty is a little concerning, so, yes, it’s a matter for distress.” That was Scott York, chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, reacting to census data that show dramatic increases in the number of poor children in his county. The fact that the Washington-area county with the highest median household income also had the region’s highest percentage increase of children living in poverty is sobering evidence of the effects of the national recession on society’s most vulnerable. It underscores the need for new resolve in confronting the problem.
Since the start of the recession in 2007, there has been a 34 percent increase in childhood poverty in the Washington area, according to recently released data from the 2010 U.S. Census. As The Post’s Carol Morello and Ted Mellnik reported, almost every local jurisdiction saw a rise in the numbers of poor children. The District has the highest rate, with almost one in three children growing up poor, but suburban counties showed startling new numbers. Montgomery County, for example, recorded a 115 percent boost to 22,548 children; Loudoun posted a 139 percent increase to 4,079; and Arlington County had a gain of 89.8 percent to 4,487.
In some respects, the numbers shouldn’t have come as a surprise, given national data showing that 16.4 million children, 22 percent of America’s youth, live in poverty (defined as a family of four with an income of less than $22,350 a year). Nonetheless, local officials told us they were caught off guard. “We knew it was high, but we’re still trying to figure out why that high,” said Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D). A key issue — what Mr. Leggett called the $64,000 question — is whether this is a short-term blip or a long-term trend.
Clearly one issue worthy of study is the changing face of poverty. A new national study released by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that Latinos now make up the largest group of children living in poverty, outnumbering for the first time white children. From 2007 to 2010, the percentage of impoverished Hispanic children increased by 36 percent to 6.1 million, compared to 5 million white children. The Post’s analysis of the Washington region showed almost all the poor children in the District are African American, while the highest rates in the suburbs fluctuated between black and Latino kids.
Those who think the answer to poverty is an insistence on self-reliance should recognize that children are one segment of the population that is utterly helpless when it comes to material support. It’s not right for a child to pay the price for parental shortfalls or societal breakdowns. It’s also not the way to build a better future.